Joint statement by heads of UN humanitarian agencies on Syria

Press Releases, 23 April 2014

NEW YORK, GENEVA, ROME, 23 April, 2014. One year ago, as leaders of UN agencies struggling to deal with the growing human impact of the Syrian crisis, we issued an urgent appeal on behalf of millions of people whose lives and futures hang in the balance: Enough, we said, enough!

That appeal has gone largely unanswered. The war escalates in many areas. The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day. And for the civilians remaining in the cities of Aleppo and the Old City of Homs, as well as other parts of the country experiencing heavy fighting, the worst days seem yet to come.

As the fighting has intensified in recent weeks, at least one million people are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Aleppo alone. The road from Damascus to Aleppo a vital lifeline has often been cut. 1.25 million people are in need of food in Aleppo city and rural parts of the governorate. Other key roads are blocked by different armed forces and groups.

All too often, humanitarian access to those in need is being denied by all sides. Aerial bombardment, rockets, mortars and other indiscriminate attacks slaughter innocent men, women, and children. In Aleppo it is reported that there are now only 40 doctors for a population of 2.5 million people once there were more than 2,000 and medical supplies are scarce. The city is surrounded on all sides.

Across Syria, the lives of more than 9.3 million people are now affected in this, the fourth year of conflict. With a third of the nation's water treatment plants no longer functioning, with 60 per cent of health centres destroyed, and with some 3.5 million people living in areas under siege or unable to be reached with humanitarian assistance, the innocent civilians of Syria seem to be surviving on sheer courage.

As humanitarian agencies, working closely with international and national non-governmental organizations, we are doing all we can to save lives and alleviate suffering even in the face of great danger to, and sacrifice by, our colleagues on the ground. But we know that what we can do is not sufficient. Not nearly so.

If we are to do more, to reach and help more people, those engaged in this horrific conflict, and those with influence over them, must do more.

Today, we call upon all parties to this brutal conflict to take urgent action to:

- Enable unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need, using all available routes either across lines inside Syria or across its borders.

- Lift the sieges on civilians currently being imposed by all sides, such as those now sealing off parts of Aleppo, the Old City of Homs, Yarmouk, East Ghouta, Moadhamieh, Nubl and Zahra.

- End the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilians by the Government and opposi-tion groups and stop all other violations of international humanitarian law.

Thus far, diplomatic efforts designed to end years of suffering have failed. What have not failed are the courage and determination of extraordinary Syrian civilians to survive. Can those with the responsibility and the power and the influence to stop this terrible, tragic war find the same courage? The same will?

For if the civilians of Syria have not given up, how can the world give up on its efforts to save them and save Syria?

Valerie Amos

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Anthony Lake

Executive Director, UNICEF

António Guterres

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Ertharin Cousin

Executive Director, World Food Programme

Dr. Margaret Chan

Director-General, World Health Organization


For more information:

  • Jens Laerke, OCHA Geneva. Tel: +41-22-917-1142, Cell: +41-79-472-9750, laerke@un.org
  • Abeer Etefa, WFP Cairo. Tel: +202-2528-1730 ext. 2600, Cell: +20-106-663-4352, abeer.etefa@wfp.org
  • Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York. Tel: +1-212-326-7448, Cell: +1-917-209-1804, nmekki@unicef.org
  • Melissa Fleming, UNHCR Geneva. Tel + 41-22-739-7965, Cell: + 41-79-557-9122, fleming@unhcr.org
  • Christy Feig, World Health Organization, Geneva. Tel: + 41-79-251-7055, feigc@who.int
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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